Written by Alessia Cantale, Haberfield Helath
What are carbohydrates (carbs)?
Firstly, there are three types of carbohydrates: sugar, starch, and fiber, categorized into two
groups: simple and complex carbohydrates.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, while starch and fiber are complex carbohydrates.
What are simple and complex carbohydrates?
Simple carbohydrates are a single, simple sugar unit with monosaccharides and disaccharides. Simple carbohydrates produce a spike in blood glucose, providing the body with a short-lasting source of energy. Food examples include raw sugar, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, packaged cookies and soft drinks.
Complex carbohydrates are a longer and more complex chain containing starches, glycogen, and dietary fibers. Complex carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels for longer and produce a more lasting elevation in energy. The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide the body with energy, and complex carbohydrates do this more effectively. Food examples include nuts, beans, whole grains, vegetables, corn, oats, and peas.
*Think a whole apple or orange over a glass of apple or orange juice and think whole-grain bread versus white bread*
How do these different carbohydrates affect human health?
Initially, when looking at human health, we need to focus holistically and see all parts of health such as calorie consumption, sleep, physical activity, and overall lifestyle factors to determine human health rather than focusing on a particular nutrient.
Although, research tells us a diet with excessive intake of simple carbohydrates, fat and highly processed and refined carbohydrates will increase calorie intake and postprandial glycemia and lipidemia. This will increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Moreover, carbohydrates that are processed, refined, or have added sugar can negatively put your health at risk over time.
In comparison, a diet with more whole foods, whole grain carbohydrates and dietary fibre will lower the risk for obesity, heart, and gut health conditions. Carbohydrates are an essential energy source for the body, and the more complex the carbohydrate, the better! Complex carbohydrates are higher in fiber and digest more slowly in the body, lowering the blood glucose spike. A balanced diet with complex carbohydrates makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight and help to prevent conditions arising in the future.